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Veteran Actor Unravels Life of Abused Teenager

Bob Colonna, RIC adjunct professor of theater

RIC adjunct professor of theater Bob Colonna will appear in performances of Jumping Rope and Turning Tricks on Dec. 14 and 15 at 8 p.m. at the Empire Black Box Theatre in Providence.

Written and directed by David Eliet, this play is one of eight that was “highly commended” in the 2012 BBC World Service International Playwriting Competition.

Performed as a radio drama, with actors holding scripts in hand, Jumping Rope and Turning Tricks is about a tough teenage girl who discloses her lifelong experience of physical and sexual abuse to a writer, played by Bob Colonna.

“I think the play asks the question ‘How much can a human being withstand before they give up?’ ” said Colonna. “I think it also asks ‘How much can you help a person in crisis? And if you fail to help them, how do you live with that?’ I don’t think the play answers these questions, but it exposes them.”

After his first reading of the script, Colonna said, he found the experiences of the main character deeply disturbing, leaving him shaken.

His own upbringing took place in the idyllic gated community of Hollywood, Calif. He is the son of comedian Gerardo Luigi “Jerry” Colonna, best remembered as the zany professor and sidekick of Bob Hope in radio shows and films during the 1940s and 50s.

When Bob Colonna was 10 years old, his father left the Bob Hope Show, although he continued to make guest appearances with Hope both on radio and television and appeared in all of Hope’s Christmas military tours until Jerry Colonna had a stroke in 1966.

Though incredibly funny in the limelight, Bob remembers his father as quiet and conservative in private life. “I, on the other hand, was a hammy kid and a class clown,” he said. “I wasn't especially funny, but I sure tried.”

By high school the acting bug had gotten a hold of him. At 15 he joined his father as part of a vaudevillian act, touring the British Isles for five weeks.

“I loved show business,” Colonna said. “I thought it was heaven. And though I didn’t learn much about actual acting from my dad – dad was an entertainer, not an actor – he taught me two important things: one, never turn your back to the audience, your butt is too big (I was close to 300 pounds at the time); and two, always know when to get off the stage.

In 1966 Colonna packed a suitcase and moved from California to Rhode Island to join the Trinity Repertory Company. In 1971 he became founder and artistic director of the Rhode Island Shakespeare Theater. To date, he's directed more than 60 performances at the theater, appearing this year in Richard III, As You Like It and Twelfth Night.

His professional career, which spans more than 50 years, includes work in radio, film and television. He appeared in the feature films Home on the Harbor and The Last Shot. On television he appeared in Three Sovereigns for Sarah, Feasting with Panthers and The Dean of This Air, and in two Jean Shepard stories for Disney. His voice has been heard in more than 8,000 radio commercials in the New England area, and in 2007 he was honored with the Claiborne Pell Award for Excellence in the Arts.

Recently Colonna released a biography of his father titled Greetings, Gate! The Story of Professor Jerry Colonna, available at Bearmanormedia.com.

Tickets to Jumping Rope and Turning Tricks are $10. For more information call 401-632-1263, or email ilitsky@yahoo.com.